KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan intelligence agents captured six militants with suicide vests and heavy weaponry who were planning a major attack in Kabul, an official said Thursday. A seventh alleged plotter was killed in the raid on a hideout in the capital.
The raid came hours after militants hit a guest house used by the International Committee of the Red Cross on Wednesday night, killing an Afghan in an escalation of high-profile attacks targeting international organizations. Afghan security forces rescued seven foreigners.
Agents found five explosives-filled vests, a grenade launcher, assault rifles and maps and documents indicating their plan was to attack government facilities in the capital, said Shafiqullah Tahiri, spokesman for National Directorate of Security.
"During the operation terrorists showed resistance, and one of the members of the terrorist group was killed," Tahiri said.
He said the militants were connected with the Haqqani network, a militant group based in Pakistan known for conducting spectacular attacks. He also said the militants had ties with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, without elaborating. Kabul frequently accuses Islamabad's spy agency of backing militant operations, but rarely provides specific details.
The Taliban and other militants have unleashed a wave of bombings and assassinations around the country, testing the ability of the Afghan security forces to respond with reduced help from international forces, who have begun a withdrawal that will see most foreign troops gone by the end of 2014.
They also have been staging complex attacks in Kabul and other urban areas, trying to weaken confidence in the government.
On Wednesday night, two insurgents attacked a compound housing the International Committee of the Red Cross in eastern Afghanistan, killing an Afghan guard before security forces rescued seven foreigners. It was a striking escalation of attacks targeting international organizations.
The violence came five days after Taliban gunmen backed by a suicide car bomber attacked the Kabul offices of the International Organization for Migration, killing two Afghan civilians and a police officer. The assault sparked an hours-long street battle and left another 17 wounded, including seven IOM staff members.
Afghan officials acknowledge that the fact that militants are able to penetrate into Kabul is discouraging, but they point out that several other plots for even bigger attacks have been broken up.
On March 14, the Afghan intelligence service seized a massive truck bomb packed with 7,257 kilograms (8 tons) of explosives on the eastern outskirts of Kabul. The truck apparently was going to be used in an attack on a NATO facility in the capital.
Afghan security force casualties have risen sharply this year, while the number of international forces killed has gone down. The U.S.-led military coalition said one of its service members died Thursday from a roadside bomb in eastern Afghanistan. The death brings to 21 the number of foreign forces killed this month -- roughly half of May deaths last year.
A small U.S. force is expected to be left in Afghanistan after 2014 but details are still being negotiated. On Thursday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he favors a security agreement with America allowing some of its troops to remain but wants unspecified "guarantees."
Karzai provided no details when he spoke Thursday at a gathering on rural development. But he has said in the past that the United States must commit to boost Afghan security, strengthen its armed forces and provide long-term economic development assistance.
Karzai says the U.S. should pay for the agreement, a reference to a demand for rent to lease up to nine bases in Afghanistan. He didn't say how much money Afghanistan wants, but it's thought to be over $6 billion.
The U.S. has said it's not seeking permanent bases in Afghanistan.
The agreement is expected by year's end.